Of all the independent comics I previewed before heading to Chicago Comic-Con, Kiki Jenkins‘ Idolon is the one that made me binge read until I lost track of time. The two chapters of the webcomic posted so far are sweet schoolgirl romance – Azumanga Daioh meets Mean Girls with a sapphic twist – but Jenkins revealed in our interview that Idolon is about to take a sharp left turn, as we learn about several characters’ entanglement in a criminal underworld. In under a year, Jenkins’ memorable characters have brought her a passionate fan base, whose financial support has allowed her to produce a print version of Idolon.
Graphic Policy: Tell me a little bit about Idolon in general.
Kiki Jenkins: It’s about a girl named Cassandra. She’s been homeschooled for her entire life, very sheltered, by a very eccentric father. Her senior year of school, she gets a scholarship to attend a school with actual real live people. She meets Sam, who is sort of a girl like her except she’s very shunned by the entire school. [Cassandra] finds out later that the reason no one likes Sam is because no one likes her sister, Deanna. Deanna and her girlfriend Benny are part of this crime ring. So they’re hardened criminals, but they’re hilarious at the same time. So they’re not, like, horrible people. And [Cassandra] basically gets thrust into this life that’s completely foreign to her. But both of them learn from each other. Deanna learns to tone it back a little bit, and Cassandra learns how to come out of her shell – by living with criminals! And it’s also a love story, at the heart of that, as well.
GP: The high school and schoolgirl influences are really obvious, but also the crime story – what gave you the idea to bring those two genres together?
KJ: I just thought that would hit people really hard, that they would be reading this, like, you read the first chapter, and you’re like, “Oh, it’s a cute little schoolgirl story!” and then bam, you’re hit with these criminals, and I thought that would be a really fun juxtaposition. To explore Cassandra’s side, where she’s this schoolgirl, and also Deanna’s side, because they happen to be friends, and live in the same space, but they’re two completely different people. I didn’t get any inspiration from the criminal side from my life, but a little bit of the things they do from experiences that I’ve had. I just thought it would be really fun and really different.
GP: You’re making the transition from web comic to print. How did you get that opportunity?
KJ: I got everything from my readers. I was really excited to find that I had more readers than I thought. I’m really blessed by having tons of loyal fans, readers who would be willing to buy a copy. So I did a crowdfunding for it – everything is crowdfunded. But even when it becomes published, everything will still be free, available online, because I think it’s really important that people get to read the story, and the story that I will present to people, for free. But having those loyal fans who have helped me print it, like, all of the preorders that they did, is what funded it, and I wouldn’t be where I am without them.
GP: That’s amazing, to get the fans so involved.
KJ: Absolutely, and being sort of new – the comic is only in chapter two, and to have that already is just incredible. My fans are everything. I owe everything to my readers.
GP: Are there things that the fans have suggested that you’ve put in?
KJ: Sort of. I think it’s more that they’ve guessed what will happen. People will say that they want to see Benny doing this, when that’s already planned for her. I think they’re reading, and they get a sense of who she is, and they’re like, “Oh, I hope this happens.” And it will. And lots of crazy things that people are going to expect are going to happen to all of the characters. The story is already completely planned out, but I still have room open for little suggestions, like for new characters, and things like that.
GP: One of the things that really spoke to me is this experience of young women coming out to themselves and falling in love for the first time. What is it you’re trying to put forth, especially to young female readers who might be coming out as lesbian or bisexual? What do you hope they get out of that in particular?
KJ: I hope that they see both sides of the coin. Cassandra, who hasn’t even come out to herself yet, and then Deanna, who’s just totally out there. She’s the most out person, and really blatant about it, same with Benny. I want readers to be able to see that no matter what their experiences, whether they’re a Cassandra or a Deanna, or somewhere in between, they’re not alone, and there’s always going to be someone there who has gone through it and will be able to help them through it, even if their family doesn’t approve of it. Because Deanna, her family has absolutely disowned her for it. I really want them to see that there’s different levels of being out. There’s being really out and there’s being not at all out. But whatever people are experiencing, they’re not alone. One of the characters is probably experiencing it too.
GP: Since you’re self-published, you do all the writing and the art yourself. The positive side of that is, you get to do whatever you want, but the negative side is self-editing. Is there anything you thought of for the characters that you decided not to do?
KJ: So much. [Laughs] There’s so many parts when I think, oh, I’m going to do this storyline, and then I’m like, Kiki, you need to pull it back. I’ve already gone out on a limb with some of the things that Benny and Deanna will be doing that are very violent. Even then, I’ve had to have myself reel it in and self-censor myself a lot. But then when I take it to other people, like close friends that I share it with, they’re like, “No, man, you’ve got to go for it!” That’s the great thing about being self-published, and about being your own writer and artist, is that if you’re going to do it, you’d better, like, full-out, pull no punches when you do it. There’s going to be a lot of things that are really out there, but I hope it will be something that people haven’t really seen before because you can’t get away with nearly as much when you’re published by a publishing house or with someone else’s writing. It’s going to get really crazy really fast.
GP: If you could draw or write for any existing comic character or series, what would it be?
KJ: Ms. Marvel. Absolutely. I love Ms. Marvel. I love her relationship with Captain Marvel, and the fact that she’s so different from the superheroes that we see right now. She’s Muslim, she’s a woman of color, and that’s super important to me. And not only that, but she’s just like me! She writes fan fiction, and she’s super geeky, and she totally has no idea what she’s doing with her life, and she’s awesome. I’d really love to explore that. Plus, her character design is really cool. I love Ms. Marvel.
GP: I love it when somebody brings up one of my favorites. I’m like, “Yes!”
KJ: That or Spider Gwen. I love Spider Gwen too.
GP: Pirates, aliens, ninjas, or cowboys?
KJ: Ninja aliens.
GP: You only get one. Everybody wants to pick two! You get one.
KJ: Aliens. Aliens are way more fun. You’re not constricted by human experiences. You can make the craziest crap up and people will be like, “They’re aliens. It makes sense.” And that’s totally what I’m here for.